By Rick Hynum

Sebastian Gallucci believes in “magic,” at least in a sense. It’s his go-to descriptor whenever he talks about Sebas Restaurant, which he and his wife, Michelle, opened in the beach town of Uvita, Costa Rica, in late 2022. A farm-to-table eatery in every imaginable way, Sebas has transformed Uvita’s pizza scene, although, initially, pizza was only a small facet of Gallucci’s menu.

But that’s how magic works. No spells needed, no eye of newt or some poor unicorn’s horn ground into powder. Gallucci’s gift for teasing out unexpected flavors from organic local ingredients—many of which he grows himself—coupled with his deep respect and appreciation for local Costa Rican farmers and his eye for aesthetics have yielded truly bewitching results—so much so that the experts at 50 Top Pizza named Sebas Restaurant one of the best pizza spots in all of Latin America (No. 43, to be specific) and the best in Costa Rica for 2024.

50 Top Pizza describes Gallucci’s cuisine as “local, sustainable, rooted in the territory, which in this case is the jungle,” noting that Sebas is the culmination of “a long journey marked by various professional accomplishments in the food sector on the other side of the world.” Among Sebas’ specialty pies are standouts like The Pesto Prosciutto (pistachio pesto, buffalo mozzarella and burrata, prosciutto and cherry tomatoes); The Massi (roasted squash puree, kale, pancetta, Parmesan, gorgonzola and spicy honey); and The Dota (smoked trout, gorgonzola, fresh dill, spicy honey and mascarpone foam).

Related: Pizza farms: The indie pizzeria’s latest competitor

In Gallucci’s own words, “We are creating absolute magic. We are farm-to-to-table, seed oil-free, and connected to many amazing families making us homemade cheeses. Everything we do at Sebas is made with love and passion. We make everything inside the restaurant. We support over 15 local farms….We use 00 flour from Italia. We use only salt and water from Italy for the processing of our dough. Our pastas are handmade, changing weekly with different inspirations from Italia.”

But Gallucci developed his powers of culinary sorcery not in Italy or Costa Rica, but in Toronto, Canada, where he grew up under the tutelage of his father, who was also a chef. We asked Gallucci to tell us more about his remarkable journey in this Q&A, and here’s what we learned.

PMQ: So I understand that you and your wife sold everything you owned in Toronto a few years ago and moved to Costa Rica with a baby in tow. Why Costa Rica?

Sebastian Gallucci:
 It’s a really beautiful place. It’s magical, man. You come here once, you come here twice, you really fall in love with the nature, the oceans, mountains, jungles, the vibrancy, the organic food…and it’s always hot. Costa Rica is a really welcoming place. The people are really nice. I feel at home here. My family’s here. We’re making magic here.

We moved here three-and-a-half years ago during COVID. I owned a restaurant in Toronto, a beautiful Argentinian supper club that was busy all the time. But during COVID it was really difficult to have a restaurant in the city. And my wife wanted to come here anyway. She found 45 acres in the jungle, and we decided to sell everything and move to the jungle. We built our home completely off-grid and opened Seba’s in December 2022, offering homemade pizza and pasta, amazing steaks and fish cooked on an open fire, all organic butter oil.

PMQ: What was the pizza scene like in Uvita when you guys moved there?

Gallucci: The pizza scene was just OK for me. I was looking for something else. Coming from Toronto, where there are such amazing pizzas and pizzerias all over, it was time for me to bring my expertise and my knowledge and my love to Uvita. I ended up creating a pizza program within Seba’s, and it just caught fire then.

Related: Three master pizzaioli offer Neapolitan pizza-making course in Atlanta September 2-3

PMQ: How did you end up opening Sebas? Was starting a restaurant your goal all along?

Gallucci: I was looking for more than a year to open Sebas. One day I saw this hotel that was opening, and it was a blank canvas for me. We opened within six weeks, including hiring staff and creating the menu. It was absolutely madness. You can’t even open a restaurant for less than $500,000 now in Toronto. Once you find a place, sign the lease and buy equipment, you’re spending $200,000 minimum. Here it’s half the price for magic, man. You don’t really need walls. You don’t need insulation or heating. It’s all open air, so it’s really cheap to open a restaurant here.

We started with six pizzas on the menu and daily specials. Then I went to Italy last October, and I got really inspired. I came back and created a menu with 16 amazing pizzas, all different, all really special. Some are classics, some are really wild….Our goal is to push boundaries, to create pizzas that people have never seen but also to respect the tradition of the old-school pizzas from Italy. All of our tomatoes are straight from Italia, and you can taste the sweetness. All of the burrata is handmade from a local farm. Our prosciuttos and soppressatas come from Italy. We use San Marzano tomatoes, Italian flour, olive oil from Italy….Right now we’re fermenting our dough three days, and it’s absolute magic, man.

I have a lot of experience in Italian cuisines, so I understand fermentation and local cheese, how important the ingredients are to the product. Pizza is so simple, so you need to make sure you’re using the best product you can find. I couldn’t really find a pizza here in Uvita that made me happy. The sauce was too acidic, or you could tell the cheese wasn’t handmade. So when I created Sebas, the people were so happy.

PMQ: But you didn’t just open a restaurant and start working with local farmers, although that’s a big part of what you do. You also started your own 45-acre farm, including 200 fruit trees, so you personally grow many of your ingredients. Tell us more about that.

We’ve planted so many fruit trees and herbs. We have avocados, mangoes, papaya, cinnamon, a lot of basil and so many edible flowers. We have lemongrass, oregano, rosemary, aloe, orange, lemon, lime—so many amazing things I can’t even name them all. It takes time for all these to come in, so slowly but surely, every few weeks I bring in a bunch of bananas, a bunch of plantains, etc.

We’re supporting almost 12 local farms through the eggs, the cheeses, goat milk and yogurt that we buy, all locally sourced and organic. We’re trying to support as many people as we can with this little restaurant.

Farm-to-table, for me, is really important. I really love supporting local families. Your money is your voice. And that’s it. If you’re buying McDonald’s every day, you’re supporting McDonald’s. If you’re coming to small local restaurants, you’re supporting a lot of local families. That’s my motto, and that’s what I stick to.

It’s hard to find a farm-to-table restaurant that provides the service we received in the big cities. My goal was to bring the energy and expertise and knowledge of a big city to a small town. And I think we’ve done it. Our kitchen staff is amazing. Our service is great. It took a long time to find really amazing waiters, but we have them now. I’m really proud of everybody. They’ve created such magic in my restaurant.

PMQ: What has the 50 Top Pizza honor meant to you?

Gallucci: We weren’t even famous for pizza until 50 Top Pizza mentioned us on their list. We were famous for steaks and our amazing desserts and homemade pastas. Then 50 Top Pizza mentioned us for the best pizza in Costa Rica, and it really changed the game of our pizza scene. People are coming from all over the country and the world to try our pizza. It’s really, really amazing.

There are a few really cool chefs here doing the same thing as me—local farm-to-table. But for pizza I haven’t really seen anybody in this town fermenting their dough three days, using local cheese, bringing in San Marzano tomatoes and 00 flour. But, you know, the more the merrier. I want more chefs to come to this town and create amazing things—more restaurants, more energy, more vibe.

PMQ: What are your favorite pizzas on the Sebas menu? What are you proudest of?

 I’m an old-school guy. My personal favorite is the Margherita, man. A little hot sauce and chili flakes. That’s the way to go. When you go to a restaurant and try the pizza, you always have to order the Margherita first. Other than the Margherita, I love the Spicy Sammy, our version of a Diabla with hot soppressata, chili jalapenos from my garden, black olives, buffalo mozz and San Marzano tomatoes. It’s really amazing.

PMQ: Sustainability is clearly not just a marketing strategy for you. It seems to be a mission, right?

 I came from a city where, if you want caviar or wagyu or anything, you can get it in a moment. Here in a small town, it’s difficult to find really luxurious products. So you’ve gotta go old school and back to your roots. You’ve gotta use whatever’s in season, whatever’s in town, and it’s really cool as a chef to push yourself to not lean on always getting whatever you want anytime you want. We run out of buffalo mozz, we’ve got no pizza. We run out of flour from Italy, we’ve got no pizza for two weeks. Somedays we don’t have any fish because the fishermen don’t catch any. And this is the way sustainable farm-to-table restaurants should be.

The only way restaurants will survive for the next 30 to 40 years is through sustainability. You have to cook with the season. If you don’t have the product, 86 it, man, that’s the way to go.

PMQ: As someone who has found success in a major city like Toronto and in a small Latin American community like Uvita in Costa Rica, what has been the key?

 I started in my father’s kitchen when I was four years old, watching him succeed and fail and do everything he could to make it work. I tried my hardest to get where I am right now. You don’t just make it to the top by posting pictures on Instagram. I started by selling food on the street in Toronto, driving my food truck 15 hours a day to try to make a name for myself. Then I was working 15 hours a day in my restaurant in Toronto, not seeing my family, not seeing my friends, giving up everything I could for this dream. So keep pushing!

It’s not easy, man. Nothing is easy in life. You’ve got to put all your love and energy into everything you do, and you’ve got to be talented, and you’ve got to have a little luck, and you’ve got to have so much passion and love and a big dream. And you know what? You will be successful.